Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Sea Lion Whisperer

So Alastair and I are making a film about New Zealand Sea Lions, the rarest sea lions in the world. In the course of trying to learn as much about these animals as we can, we followed Shaun McConkey - I nicknamed him The Sea Lion Whisperer. Shaun has been sudying this tiny population on the mainland for 11 years. He has witnessed an amazing reptriation of this animal to the South island coast, all due to one pioneering female sea lion, called 'Mum'. Once sea lions were common all over New Zealand, in strong numbers. But overharvesting by Maori and European sealers caused a terrible decline. A tiny population resorted to a meager living in the sub Antarctic Islands. But Mum changed all that when she decided to make a go of it on the mainland. Since her daughters and granddaughters are philopatric, meaning they rear their young where they themselves were reared, the mainland might see a real sea lion colony on the mainland for the first time in more than 200 years.
Shaun is spearheading the Sea Lion Trust, which aims to protect this fragile species.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mercury Rising by Catherine Wood

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Despite mercury’s toxicity and the availability of alternatives for almost all uses, 100 tonnes of mercury is in use each year in Canada in thousands of products such as fluorescent lamps, thermostats, thermometers and button batteries, as well as industrial applications.

Canada has been working hard to decrease its mercury emissions. Between 1990 and 1995, man-made releases dropped from 32 tonnes to 11 tonnes, thanks to improvements in the base metal mining industry. By 2000, mercury releases had decreased to 8 tonnes per year.

A recent announcement by the federal government promises to further protect the health of Canadians by preventing the release of 10 tonnes of mercury into the environment over the next ten years.

How? Every year, more than 1 million cars are recycled in Canada. In fact, cars are the most recycled product on the planet. Many of these vehicles used automotive lighting switches that contain mercury. While this is perfectly safe when you are still driving your car, mercury-containing switches contribute to mercury releases when scrap metal is sent to steel plants for recycling. Although their use has been discontinued, there remains a legacy of switches that need to be responsibly recovered to prevent the mercury from being released to the environment.

The recovery of mercury switches is a relatively inexpensive and effective way to significantly reduce mercury emissions. The recent federal announcement of a national switch recovery plan will engage government, industries, and non-governmental organizations to address the issue of mercury, and represents the kind of forward-thinking solutions which can achieve tangible and sustainable results.

Thus far in Canada, mercury switches have been recovered before they enter the recycling stream by responsible auto recyclers participating in Switch Out, a program developed by the Clean Air Foundation. This program is dedicated to promoting the responsible recovery and disposal of automotive mercury switches. Switch Out has been successful in recovering more than 130,000 mercury switches in the past few years, and although this is a relatively small percentage of the switches entering the waste stream (the exact number is not known)—this program has succeeded in helping to prevent mercury from entering the waste stream and subsequently emitting into the environment.

Leadership on this issue is an essential first step towards protecting people and the environment from unnecessary exposure to this dangerous toxic substance.

So, what can you as an individual do?

  • Use less electricity. Coal-fired power generation represents one of the largest sources of mercury emissions. By decreasing the amount of electricity we use, we can reduce emissions of mercury and other harmful air pollutants (and save money).
  • Safely and responsibly dispose of any articles around your home that contain mercury. Each community across Canada has different facilities, but in most cases you will be able to bring mercury-containing products to your local Household Hazardous Waste Site. Call your municipality for more information or visit for a searchable database of disposal and recycling centres in Canada, the US, and internationally.
  • Read labels. Replace any articles around your home that contain mercury. Avoid purchasing things that contain mercury; non-mercury containing versions of common products are almost always readily available. Lists of common products and alternatives are available on the Environment Canada and US EPA websites.
  • Educate yourself, your family, your friends and your colleagues about mercury and its dangers. There is a wealth of information available through your library and on the web. Pollution Probe has a great resource called Mercury in the Environment—a Primer, available free online at
  • Write to your councilor, MP, MPP, as well as your Provincial and Federal Minister of the Environment. Tell them you are concerned about mercury pollution both locally and nationally, and that you are looking for their leadership on the issue. Demand that your government have a comprehensive long-term mercury pollution plan in place.

Catherine Wood is with the Clean Air Foundation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Happy Birthday Alastair!

My talented filming partner, in action behind the lense! Many happy returns, Alastair!